BUBBA HO-TEP ($28) is one of those strange delights of the cinema that falls somewhere between the brilliant and the bizarre, and quite understandably, this quirky motion picture has become an instant cult classic. Based upon the short story by Joe R. Lansdale, BUBBA HO-TEP is one of the most unique and original films to ever be associated with the horror genre. With his tongue firmly planted in his check screenwriter/director Don Coscarelli tells the story of a supernatural evil that comes to a small Texas rest home, which just happens to have two rather famous residents. Now, if you are of the opinion that the King Of Rock-n-Roll died in a bathroom in Graceland and JKF was assassinated in Dallas, well, you better think again…
It seems that some years before Elvis Presley’s supposed death at Graceland, The King grew tired of his existence and swapped places with an Elvis impersonator named Sebastian Haff. Time and circumstances prevented Elvis from reclaiming his life, plus a broken hip and old age have landed The King in a low rent Mud Creek, Texas rest home. As for JFK, lets just say that this is the mother of all conspiracy cover-ups. As it turns out, the former President has a bag of sand in his head, where a piece of his brain used to be, plus he has been dyed black to dissuade anyone in the rest home from believing his true identity. And so, into the bleak (and slightly loony world) of this Texas rest home comes Bubba Ho-Tep, a soul sucking Egyptian mummy with a penchant for western wear. As the elderly residents of the rest home begin dropping like flies, it falls to a former King and a former President to do battle with an unspeakable undead evil.
Okay, so the plot of BUBBA HO-TEP sounds utterly preposterous, but that is from where much of the film’s charm and humor spring. Of course, what really brings BUBBA HO-TEP to life is the terrific performances of its two heroes. Bruce Campbell is nothing short of amazing as the elderly Elvis Presley. This performance is not a caricature, but a heartfelt portrayal of an old man filled with regret, who decides to become an unlikely real hero in the twilight of his life. And with his completely straight portrayal, Ossie Davis is absolutely delightful as "JFK." Had Davis attempted to play the character of the former President with a "wink and a nod," it is doubtful that BUBBA HO-TEP would have been half as successful. In fact, it is the absolute conviction that both actors bring to their respective roles that separates BUBBA HO-TEP from cult movie wannabes and forgettable schlock horror films. The cast of BUBBA HO-TEP also includes Bob Ivy, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout, Reggie Bannister, Daniel Roebuck and Daniel Schweiger.
MGM Home Entertainment has made BUBBA HO-TEP available on DVD in a 1.85:1 widescreen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. Considering the film’s ultra low budget origins, BUBBA HO-TEP looks truly terrific on DVD. The image appears very sharp and nicely defined- maybe too much so for some of the close-ups of Bruce Campbell’s old age makeup. Colors are strongly rendered and are reproduced without any fuzziness or chroma noise. Blacks are accurately rendered and the whites are clean. Shadow detail is a bit truncated, but that is attributable to the film’s low budget and not a flaw in this otherwise fine transfer. The film element is very clean, although the inexpensive photographic stock does display a noticeable grain structure throughout the course of the presentation. Digital compression artifacts are generally well contained.
While it isn’t going to rock the Casbah, BUBBA HO-TEP comes with a really nice Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. Surrounds are well implemented to add creepy atmospherics to what can sometimes be a forward-loaded sound mix. Much of the film is dialogue driven, so when the rears do kick in, they come across in a highly effective manner. Channel separation is also good across the front, which helps to give the track a fairly spacious quality. Fidelity is quite nice, with the track producing a reasonably solid bottom end, which enhances both music and sound effects. Dialogue is always completely understandable, and Bruce Campbell’s Elvis drawl has a nice natural timbre. No other language tracks are provided, but English, French and Spanish subtitles have been included.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a nice body of supplements. BUBBA HO-TEP comes with two separate audio commentaries; the first includes director Don Coscarelli and star Bruce Campbell, while the second features Campbell in character as The King. Both commentaries have their high points and are certainly worth a listen, track one covers the technical bases with a bit of humor, and track two provides pure entertainment value, especially if you are a Campbell fan. Bubba Ho-Tep: Short Story Reading features Joe R. Lansdale reading an excerpt from his original story.
Next we have the featurettes: The Making Bubba Of Ho-Tep runs twenty-four minutes and included the expected look behind-the-scenes and interviews with cast & crew. To Make A Mummy is a six-minute look at how the film’s title character was created on a tight budget. Rock Like An Egyptian clocks in at thirteen minutes and features composer Brian Tyler and director Coscarelli, who discuss the film’s score. Fit For A King runs eight minutes and focuses on how the film recreated that signature Elvis wardrobe. Also featured are three deleted scenes with optional commentary by Campbell and Coscarelli- all fun material that was obviously trimmed to snap up the pacing. One will also find a pseudo music video of Brian Tyler playing a portion of his score, which has been inter-cut with images from the film. A theatrical trailer, TV spot, still gallery and bonus trailers close out the DVD supplements. BUBBA HO-TEP also comes with a very nice twelve-page booklet that features some photos, as well as a letter from Bruce Campbell.
BUBBA HO-TEP is one of those rare cinematic gems that comes out of the world of independent film making. The movie is totally unique and like a breath of fresh air compared to the all too familiar horror outings that come out of Hollywood. Since there were only a few scant prints of BUBBA HO-TEP during its limited theatrical run, MGM’s wonderful DVD release is probably the only way that the film will reach the kind of audience it deserves. If you are a horror fan, an Elvis fan or a Bruce Campbell fan BUBBA HO-TEP is a DVD you will want to acquire. Highly recommended.
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